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The Top 11 Checking Accounts for Avoiding Foreign ATM Fees

by on February 11, 2014 · 76 comments

in Top 10

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By now we all know to look out for foreign transaction fees on the credit cards that we use while traveling abroad – no one likes paying a 3% premium simply to make everyday purchases just because you’re not doing so in the US. But what might slip your mind is whether or not your ATM card will charge you fees for withdrawing cash abroad, which can be equally if not more onerous than the fees credit cards charge. In fact, it can actually be two charges – a flat ATM use fee of $2-5, and a transaction fee that’s usually a percentage of 1-3% of the withdrawal. So you can really save by knowing what your bank charges.

Avoid ATM fees when traveling abroad.

Avoid ATM fees when traveling abroad.

With that in mind, here is a roundup of banks and the checking accounts/debit cards they offer that will let you avoid foreign transaction fees when withdrawing money abroad – I know it’s a Top 11 list, but I’ve just arranged them alphabetically, not by the breadth of their benefits.

This information changes all the time, though, so if you have any updates on this information, or know of any other banks that offer the benefits of waiving foreign withdrawal charges, please share in the comments below and I’ll add them in!

Always choose to pay in local currency.

You can avoid getting hit with fees when withdrawing your cash abroad by choosing the right bank.

1. Ally: Strictly speaking, Ally does charge a 1% fee, but because it’s low, I thought it was worth mentioning. Per their FAQ page, “If you use an ATM in a foreign country, you may be charged a fee of up to 1% of the transaction amount for the currency conversion and/or cross border transaction. Ally only reimburses ATM fees charged by other banks if the ATM is in the US.”

2. Capital One: If you just bank through them online (so your state does not have actual brick-and-mortar locations) through Capital One 360, there are no fees on any withdrawal outside the Capital One network, even if the network or issuer, like Mastercard, charges a fee. MasterCard will charge a 1% fee, but that is “covered” by Capital One, so you shouldn’t find it on your statement. However, as readers have commented below, if you bank through an actual Capital One physical location, you will be assessed fees as high as $2 per withdrawal and 3% of the transaction amount, meaning your costs could add up quickly.

360

3. Charles Schwab: Receive full reimbursements at the end of every month for any ATM fees incurred, anywhere if you have the Schwab Bank Visa Platinum debit card, a High Yield Investor account, or a Max Rate checking account with at least a $5,000 balance. Per the Charles Schwab checking account page: “Unlimited ATM fee rebates apply to cash withdrawals using the Schwab Bank Visa® Platinum check card wherever it is accepted. ATM fee rebates do not apply to any fees other than fees assessed for using an ATM to withdraw cash from your Schwab Bank account. Schwab Bank makes its best effort to identify those ATM fees eligible for rebate, based on information it receives from Visa and ATM operators. In the event that you have not received a rebate for a fee that you believe is eligible, please call a Schwab Bank Client Service Specialist for assistance at 888-403-9000. Schwab Bank reserves the right to modify or discontinue the ATM fee rebate at any time.”

4. Citibank: With numerous international locations, customers can avoid fees by withdrawing money from Citi-branded ATM’s. Citibank actually has branches abroad, with over 4,000 locations in more than forty countries. To find out whether your destination is included, go to this page. Asia-Pacific travelers can also visit Find My Citi. If you can’t find a location in your destination, non-Citibank ATM withdrawals outside the US result in a $2 fee plus the 3% international transaction charge you always get hit with, though both of those are waived for Citigold members. Detailed fee information is available here. Per the Citibank foreign ATM info page, foreign withdrawals are fee-free for Citibank customers when they use a Citibank branded ATM or an ATM found at MoneyPass or Publix Food Stores, and fee-free altogether for Citigold clients.

Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 10.08.30 AM

5. Fidelity: Clients with Cash Management accounts receive the following waivers: “All Fidelity ATM withdrawal fees will be waived for your Fidelity Cash Management Account. In addition, your account will automatically be reimbursed for all ATM fees charged by other institutions while using a Fidelity Visa Gold Check Card linked to your account at any ATM displaying the Visa, Plus, or Star logos. ATM reimbursements will be credited to the account when the transaction posts. Please note, there is a foreign transaction fee of one percent that is not waived, which will be included in the amount charged to your account.” In practice, however, several readers have noted being charged percentage fees of 1-3% by Visa because it processed withdrawals as cash advances, so be sure you select withdrawal and checking account from the ATM.

6. First Republic Bank: Their ATM Rebate Checking account offers free use of more than 800,000 ATMs worldwide, unlimited ATM access, and even interest on balances above $3,500. ATM withdrawal fees are refunded from other banks worldwide and international card usage fees are waived. There are free ATM withdrawals to available limits as well. You must have a minimum opening balance of $500 and minimum average balance of $3,500 to avoid monthly fees.

7. PNC: Though PNC does not have international partners and will charge you a $5 fee per transaction plus 3% of the transaction amount, if you are a Performance and Performance Select customer, these fees are waived. You can get a complete overview of the fees by inputting your zip code here. Per their terms page on service charges, the fee for the first two domestic or international non-PNC Bank ATM transactions made on your Spend, Reserve or Growth accounts during a statement period will be reimbursed to your Spend account at the end of the statement period. Fees in excess of two per statement period will not be reimbursed, and remember this might not include the fees the foreign bank charges you for withdrawals – so if you are taking money out, be sure to do it in two big withdrawals rather than lots of little ones and you might be able to dodge the fees.

8. TD Bank: This brick-and-mortar chain charges a flat $2.50 fee for ATM withdrawals with no foreign transaction fees. The fee is waived for TD Premier and TD Relationship account holders with a daily minimum balance of $2,500 in their account.

TD_Bank_TD_Simple_753914_i0

9. USAA: Strictly speaking, you do get charged a fee for withdrawing money from your USAA account, but I wanted to include it here because it is pretty low. According to USAA’s Secure Checking Accounts page, “USAA Bank refunds up to $15 in other banks’ ATM usage fees each month and does not charge a fee for the first 10 ATM withdrawals. Subsequent transactions will be charged $2.00 each. A 1% foreign transaction fee applies to withdrawals outside the United States.” So if you are just making a few withdrawals, you’ll just be paying that 1% charge.

10. US Bank: With no foreign partners or international ATM locations, US Bank also adds fees to all debit card transactions abroad including a flat fee and a 2% withdrawal charge for those made in US dollars and 3% in foreign currency.  However, the $2.50 fee is waived for Platinum and Premium Checking customers, while Gold Checking customers can get two fee waivers every statement period. To compare the different accounts, click here.

11. Wells Fargo: Though Wells Fargo will charge most of their customers $5 for foreign withdrawals, per their debit card FAQ page, customers with PMA Package accounts will receive a total of up to 2 free non-Wells Fargo ATM withdrawal transactions (combined U.S. and International) per statement cycle; and the fees are all waived if PMA qualifying balance is $250,000 or more.

Avoiding These Fees

While the fees you pay depend on the bank you do business with, many waive fees for customers with premium accounts or those that carry large balance requirements. It’s also worth looking at whether your bank has physical branches in other countries, such as Citi since their US customers can often use these locations for ATM withdrawals (and many other transactions as well), and whether they have other international partner banks where you can withdraw foreign currency without fees while abroad.

This was the list of banks with no fees, or low flat fees, but for a more comprehensive list of banks and what they will charge you to withdraw money abroad, check out this post.

TPG Reader Tips

Some of our readers also have some excellent suggestions on this matter, which I will continue to update as we hear them.

-Republic Bank refunds all ATM fees for four non-Republic ATMS and no foreign exchange fees.

-Bank of America’s Global ATM Alliance has no foreign exchange fees.

-State Farm Bank has free ATMs worldwide.

-It’s free for HSBC Premier customers to use ATMs worldwide.

-Check your local credit union. Sometimes you can set up accounts specifically for foreign travel that allow you to put just the amount of money in your need for your trip, and later just leaving your balance at $5, reducing the risk of fraud while traveling.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Ira Pfeifer

    Bank of America has partnerships with a bunch of foreign banks that allow you to withdraw from their ATMs for free:

    https://www.bankofamerica.com/deposits/manage/faq-atm-fees.go

  • Jacob

    While international ATM refunds are not a formal ally benefit I have seen them refunded. I’ve been with ally about 4 years now and they are my ATM card of choice overseas.

  • Jacob

    I actually did use that once when I was in France. If you can find a branch it’s great but it can be difficult.

  • FlyingDoctorWu

    BofA will still charge you a forex fee even if you use their partners.

  • Leon Yuan

    Not true about Citi bank, I did more research via your site earlier last year on similar post. After confirming with US and several branches abroad, they do charge a 3% intl transaction fee, unless you are citi Gold customer. So I opt for Charles Schwab!
    But thanks for your post!

  • FJL

    I am in Belize at this moment on the small island of Ambergris Caye and my First Republic Bank account is working out just great for me.

  • Bill

    Not sure why you do not have schwab at the top since its completely free, investor checking is free account to open to. There is no “balance minimum” you need to have in your brokerage or checking.

    Favorable conversion rates to. Make this a no brainier.

  • Ira Pfeifer

    It’s pretty cheap in most cases – I got a rate only .5% off the midmarket fix from a Barclays ATM in London last October.

  • Beavis

    Wells Fargo gives you the PMA package for free if you have a mortgage with them, regardless of the balance of your checking account.

  • Justin

    You missed the most obvious one. I’ve never paid to use a foreign ATM using Bank of America’s Global ATM Alliance.

  • FlyingDoctorWu

    As of November 8th, 2013 it became a 3% forex fee, even if you use a global alliance ATM

  • Ira Pfeifer

    Looks like you are correct, sir. Way to lose my banking business, BofA!

  • KyShark

    My checking account with Republic Bank (Ky-In-Tn-Mn-Fl-Oh) refunds all ATM fees for four non-Republic ATMs per month and has no forex fees. It’s worked out great for me while traveling!

  • Santastico

    Not sure if this is correct. I have a PMA account with WF and a mortgage with them. For you to avoid any ATM fees the combined qualifying balance with WF has to be $250,000+.

  • Autolycus

    Yeah, I hadn’t noticed the new forex fee and got hit with it in December when withdrawing from a DeutscheBank ATM. No ATM fee, but I’d trade the ATM fee for 3% on a $200 Euro withdrawal!

    I will definitely be looking at other options for future trips.

  • Dave L

    One point of clarification on the ‘Fidelity Cash Mgmt’ account ATM withdrawals, you don’t have to have the “Fidelity Visa Gold Check Card” to get full ATM reimbursement of foreign transaction fees! The regular ‘Fidelity Debit’ card linked to ones’ cash mgmt account works as well! I really don’t understand why anyone would have the “Fidelity Visa Gold Check Card” because the “Fidelity AMEX” gives you 2% cash back on ALL purchases — a deal which should not be overlooked! The Visa card does not offer that rebate.

  • Neil Dugal

    jpmorgan private bank.

  • yep

    great post! I’ve been meaning to get my add checking to my Schwab account — so today is the day. This will probably save me a couple hundred dollars a year.rather than using my Chase ATM card (yuck).

  • Daniel Peake

    But you do have to pay the foreign transaction fee (3%).

  • Daniel Peake

    This is correct. Unless you have Citigold, you do have to pay the 3% transaction fee.

  • Valerie

    Is the 3% for all customers or are premium accounts charged lower %? I don’t remember seeing any fee for my end of november charges in asia. Unless the don’t separate the fee out?

  • Travis

    State farm bank which is free also has free ATM worldwide. Unlimited withdrawals. We live overseas and use it all the time. Ask your State Farm agent.

  • FlyingDoctorWu

    I haven’t gotten a straight answer on that.. I apparently have a WMA.. and it states that all ATM fees are waived and forex is waived for international debit card transactions but I don’t see anything that specifically says that they waive forex for international ATM withdrawals…

  • SYEW

    HSBC Premier is also a great choice. It has significant presence worldwide and it’s free for Premier customers to use HSBC ATMs worldwide. Their international assist program is also very useful incase of card lost. Though HSBC requires 100k to waive the account fee, double the Citigold requirement.

  • Jeff

    Regarding having a Capital One checking account with a physical location, you are correct that the rewards accounts charge a huge fee for withdrawing from an international ATM, but the Capital One High Yield Checking account doesn’t charge such a fee. I don’t believe they pass on any 1% charge from the network or issuer, either, as I just used the card last week many times and got the proper international exchange rate.

  • Fqguy

    Bluebird is another choice for foreign ATM access. You pay the $2 transaction fee, but no additional percentage for foreign transactions.

  • ec

    HSBC does waive the foreign ATM fee for premier but the interest rates are so low. I recently moved all funds to ally since hsbc was only paying 15 bps on 100k while ally was at 85 bps for a $700 a year difference.

  • Amanda

    Check your local credit union! For a whopping $5 initial membership fee, I have an account I set up specifically for foreign travel that charges no ATM fees globally (and refunds those charged by other institutions), no foreign transaction fees, and allows me to only put in the money I need for that trip and then put the account back to a $5 balance and minimize the risk of someone gaining access fraudulently and draining my real bank account. It’s worked brilliantly all over the worl, including many developing countries where fraud risk is high.

  • Leon

    second this….and they change policies overnight without warnings, like the China Construction Bank….which they decided to sell all their shares in Nov last year.

  • Mandrews

    Absolutely should be #1. Works great all over the world, never had an issue, simple to setup, and good exchange rates.

  • Joe

    I was told via a mailer that CO would start charging a 3% foreign conversion fee. I cannot recall when the effective date will be.

  • john C

    citibank is not true. they in theory say that their citi atms abroad do not incur fees or only 1% but they regularly charge 3%. I have been through this many times with them and they claim that the foreign citibank branches are really another bank and not citibank even though it is their own foreign subsidiary and still charge!

  • http://www.getyourgetaway.com/ Alec Barron

    Love the Fidelity account! Easily saved over $100 in ATM fees on my last Thailand trip by using it. Thailand is wonderful, but their $5 ATM fees are a huge pain in the ass.

  • http://www.getyourgetaway.com/ Alec Barron

    As others mention, there’s a pricey forex fee, but also relying on BofA partners locks you into using specific banks. What do you do if no branches are near you?

    With the Fidelity and Charles Schwab accounts listed in the article, you can use ANY bank and they’ll reimburse the ATM fee. The convenience factor is huge here.

  • V.i. Lenin

    CapitalOne 360 – I tried several withdrawals at ATMs in the Czech Rep and Hungary in August and was denied every time. I came back and called Capital One support, and the person wondered why it didn’t work as all “looked good”. Another trip in December was to Central America, Nicaragua and Honduras. I tried several withdrawals in Nicaragua, inland and at RAAS as well as Honduras and was denied every time. Travel notification was set for all countries. On every occasion I had to default to Wells Fargo and had paid the $5 fee. I did not bother to call CapitalOne CS again.

  • MissMiles

    I have a Citibank (not Citigold) account and I’ve taken money out at a Citi ATM in Barcelona and was still charged fees. Citibank explained that although I was at a Citibank in Barcelona, it was not affiliated with the Citibank in the US.

  • thepointsguy

    They are definitely among the best. As I explicitly stated in the post, this is not in order of breadth/services, it is simply alphabetical so people can find their bank quickly.

  • thepointsguy

    Right, I don’t say that there’s no fee for Citi customers, I say there’s a 3% charge and in what circumstances it’s waived. The information is accurate.

  • Nirav

    Does Bluebird work for Foreign ATM ?

  • Beavis

    Oh, I think you are right. My mortgage is over $500,000, so I’ve gotten it free easily. I didn’t realize there was a minimum mortgage balance.

  • IAHTRVLR

    I have had great success calling up chase and asking for reimbursement of fees. They reimbursed me over 50 dollars after my two week trip to china!

  • Keith

    Brian, even though you are not charged a fee for withdrawing from Global ATM Alliance members, as of November 2013, they levy a 3% fee for currency exchange.

    https://www.bankofamerica.com/deposits/manage/faq-atm-fees.go

    “An international transaction fee of 3% may apply when converting your
    currency. Some ATMs may be located in countries other than the country
    listed in the coverage area. Only ATMs in the country listed are
    considered part of the Global ATM Alliance.”

  • vega25

    Interesting. Sorry to hear that, V.i.

    I was in Prague and all over Austria in September and did not have any problem withdrawing Czech Korunas, or Euros. No fee charged by the bank, and the rate more or less matched (within a cent or two) what my no-foreign transaction fee BofA credit card gave me.

  • KevininRI

    E-Trade Bank. 1% foreign transaction fee… unlimited ATM fee refunds, both domestic and foreign.

  • hamnori

    It has rather limited presence, but Northwest Saving Bank does not charge any fees for international ATM withdrawals. No reimbursement of the ATM owner’s fee, though. The daily withdrawal limit is $500.

  • SC

    Doesn’t Schwab do a hard inquiry on your Experian when you open a checking account with them?

  • Crissy Maier

    Because he put them in alphabetical order.

  • Crissy Maier

    I use a local credit union, they charge a 1% fee on the conversion. But they do not charge a fee for the withdrawal. They also give me interest on a checking account, in general higher interest rates then any other bank I have seen (aside from online high interest accounts), and there are almost no fees associated with regular banking transactions. Even travelers cheques are fee free.

  • dee seiffer

    Going to Seoul and Beijing in April. I read on the Korean gov’t travel site that only Citibank debit card will work at Citibank ATM. Other foreign debit cards won’t work in ATMs? Is that true? (Our local regional bank used to refund ATM fees, but no more). If I open a Schwab checking acct, can I withdraw at a Seoul ATM?

  • Yankees

    Got an account at Metropolitan National Bank in NYC (Brodway and 36th) that not only don’t they charge 3%, they will also reimburse you for all charges charged by that overseas ATM.

  • Dave L

    I have traveled extensively in China (and Korea) over many years, I generally use the Bank of China ATMs, when in China. I only use a Fidelity debit card, (exactly the same as Schwab), no int’l fees! Any ATM that displays the “Visa” logo will work, but as earlier stared… use the ‘withdrawal’ button and either ‘checking’ or ‘savings.’ You do not want to access money through ‘cash advance,’ as you will be charged, if you use that. Thousands of ATMs across China and Korea display the ‘plus’ or ‘visa’ logos and that’s your key to free withdrawal from your acct back home, in local currency!
    What Citi Bank told you is bogus!

  • dee seiffer

    Thank, Dave.

  • Muerl

    Smaller Regional Banks offer really good deals for this sort of thing.

    For our travels we use Bangor Savings Bank, http://www.bangor.com/ which requires atleast part time maine residency (or atleast an address in maine) No ATM fees, reinburse all fees from other atms no tansaction %.

    Camden National Bank (also of Maine) is similar, but they will only refund overseas fees if you show them the receipt.

  • Holly

    I have citi and they still charged foreign transaction fees and ATM fees when I used their ATMs in Colombia. I am planning to switch to Schwab ASAP.

  • Pszczolka

    I’ve used Ally Bank for years, including while working for a few years in Peru and Ecuador as well as when I was in France for a few months and now for the past 3 years living in England. I’ve only been charged a fee in Mexico and this was a separate fee charged by the ATM (I had no other options) and not by Ally. I think they put that there to cover themselves but so far I’ve always received excellent exchange rates (and excellent customer service!) and no fees.

  • Chris

    Capital One and Capital One 360 are technically two different banks. Might be a good point of clarification in the post to change the header to Capital One 360, as that is the bank with the awesome foreign transaction policy.

    I used my Capital One 360 account during my trip through Russia last summer without any issue. Was great not to have to worry about fees on cash withdrawals in a country where you cannot always count on using a credit card.

  • http://traveljunkette.com/ Susan Shain

    Love me some Charles Schwab!

  • slee26

    2 things to consider for Charles Schwab, it has two sides to the them – the corporate and the banking part. If you open up the investors checking account, you also need the brokerage account (on the corporate side) but they now offer the debit card with their savings account – which is part of their banking side and you don’t need a brokerage account. Same benefits on the debit card. BEWARE: banking side is a bit archaic on their online banking side compared to other banks and their corporate side; therefore, deposits are done via mail if you don’t have any bank branches near you nor have you added an external account and to add an external account, you also need to mail a form in with a voided check (I sent my stuff in last week and it’s taking awhile).

  • RRRRRzzzzz

    Just returned from a trip to Mexico. I used my Capital One Visa, and opened a Capital One 360 bank account in order to use their debit card. The company claims no foreign fee for credit card use, and a minuscule fee for foreign ATM withdrawals.

    Upon comparing statements and receipts I found an undisclosed fee in every transaction, hidden by increasing the USD/MXN exchange rate that was in effect on that day. This shows up in both credit card purchases, and ATM withdrawals (after compensating for ATM fees). I think it’s real because the alteration of the effective exchange rate is nearly exactly 1% on cash withdrawals and .5% on credit card purchases.

    I’ve been in a lengthy email exchange with the disputes department, and only receiving what I think are BS answers. My question for them has been – who is skimming the fees and why is it not disclosed. Their latest reply is, “The ATM charged a higher exchange rate. We don’t know why.” What I suspect is that Visa (credit card) and Mastercard (debit) are skimming their percentages.

    So, consumer beware. If you have any suggestion for recourse, please reply. I would normally let the 1% go. But I went to a lot of trouble to research the best cards, read Capital One’s policies, apply for a credit card, and open an online account. I do not like being lied to.

  • Johndo

    Visa and MasterCard both take a spread on the conversion. You can find their rates on the web easily (ie http://usa.visa.com/personal/card-benefits/travel/exchange-rate-calculator.jsp )

    Check those and then see if it is different (make sure you do the conversion in the right direction). You might have to adjust the date slightly to match the processing date, but they should be the same ax what you were charged.

    I use my capital one card overseas on a weekly basis and have never seen it vary from the visa rate. I think you just misunderstand the way it is calculated.

  • RRRRRzzzzz

    Thanks for replying and for the link to that page. I am very familiar with spreads for stocks and options, but not for currencies. Looking up the bid and ask for MXN-USD, the spread shows as .0001. I managed to get directly from Capital One the exchange that MasterCard used: .0764641. The worst exchange on March 10 and 11 was .07571 (for a minute). That means MC took .00075, or 1%. To me, that looks more like a fee than a spread.

    Visa’s spreads or fees, from the link you sent, calculate to about .85%.

    What do you think? Is a 1% “spread” reasonable for currency conversion?

  • Knowspin

    Justin, that changed back in November. I missed the notification myself. I’m traveling in Europe for a month and was careful to use BNP Paribas and BNL. Then I saw in my account a 3% fee. I emailed the bank and they told me about the change. As a courtesy they refunded the fees, but the new withdrawals are accumulating fees. Nothing I can do here, but as soon as I get home I’m switching banks!

  • ap999

    Whenever I go to Thailand using my 360 atm. The ATMs give you a choice there if you want your bank to do the currency exchange or the host countries ATM to do it. I tried both ways and found that letting the capitol one do the exchange rate conversion always ends up being cheaper. Also, capitol one does not charge ATM fees, sure the host country might charge you for using theyre bank, but its not capitolone360 charging you. It was a night mare when I used my bofa account the first time i traveled overseas. the Foreign transacation fees at 3%, then the ATM fee from the ATM itself, then a ATM fee from BofA for using a out of network ATM. After that trip the only card that comes with me is primarily my 360 card, and capitol one quicksilver credit card. An as a back up my bofa or ally card strictly for a back up only though.

  • Young

    Thanks for the posts Dave. I am planning to use Fidelity debt card in China this summer, I was told by the debt card representative and her manager that if I withdraw cash at ATMs using this card, the ATM fee will be refunded and I will not be charged the 1% foreign transaction fee that will be charged if it is a purchase or I go to a teller at a bank.
    So, you were not charged this 1% foreign transaction fee, right?

  • Dave L

    Yes, that has been my experience. I’ve noticed details change over time, and often we are not notified on “foreign” policy changes. If your experience differs please update to this post by replying once again…. I’ll do the same! Good & safe travels!

  • fred
  • Haggy

    What’s more important is what these fees work out to in practice. Some card issuers have more favorable exchange rates than others, and if you get a better exchange rate, that could cancel out part of the fee.

    For example, my daughter is in NZ. I sent her with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, but she uses her Fidelity ATM card to get cash. It supposedly has a 1% fee. Her most recent withdrawal of $100NZD cost the equivalent of $100.26 when I took the amount deducted and converted it back to NZD using published exchange rates. Rates change continuously, and it’s impossible to tell what it was the moment the charge went through. But based on the rates for the last three days, it appears that she got a better exchange rate than what’s shown on currency exchange website numbers, which are already more favorable than the buy/sell spread at banks and especially airports. Before the days of foreign transaction fees, the advice of savvy travelers was to use credit cards as much as possible to take advantage of the better exchange rates compared to exchanging cash.

    If she gets cash once a week and charges most things to a credit card (which might have a more favorable exchange rate and no fees) then she’d be better off than exchanging cash. And if you add up the net cost for the ATM transactions for five months, it could come out to be 20 cents more than the whopping $5 initial membership fee for a credit union. It also saves time and paperwork.

    So it really comes down to comparing things on a transaction by transaction basis. If she had used a ZTF card at about the same moment, but the rate was slightly different, it might have come out to slightly less, but in theory, it could have been marginally more. For practical purposes, you aren’t going to know exactly. And as a percentage of the cost of a typical trip, there are more important things to worry about such as whether to have coffee at the hotel instead of paying for it later at Starbucks, which could wipe out the equivalent of the exchange fees for the entire trip.

    You can typically check your bank on line the next day to see what your actual fees were, and that should give the best indication.

  • Cindy

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been doing extensive research looking for an ATM card with which I can withdraw cash and totally avoid ATM charges and foreign transaction fees while traveling internationally. I fianlly found the Schwab account mentioned on this page. I called Schwab and am sending in an application tomorrow. This is the only card that is actually free of charges for withdrawing ATM money from a checking account, which is your money after all! There is no minimum balance needed, no limit on number of withdrawals and you can withdraw up to $1000/day. This will be my travel checking account. When not traveling the balance will very low then I will stock it for a trip then reduce it again upon return. This leaves my main checking and savings accounts at zero risk if the card is lost or stolen. Yes, when you open the account it is linked to one of their brokerage accounts but you can leave that account at zero, no need to fund it if you choose not to. I have been thinking of investing part of my savings and when I am ready Charles Schwab has certainly gotten first crack at my business my having this account. I don’t understand how it was not mentioned on the many other sites i have looked at that discuss ATM fees while traveling internationally.

  • blackbox

    Is it possible to use your debit card to buy gold coins/bars from a bank and then immediate sell them when you travel internationally?.. from what I understand a (pos) point of sale transaction doesn’t incur fees.. and could this method be used to avoid the currency exchange and % applied to cash withdrawals from a ATM machine..??

  • Lale

    hi, what is the name of the credit union to which you are referring?

  • world guru

    putting my vote for schwab too – got the account, it works flawless with 0% fees and easy/automatic reimbursements for any fees that the ATM owner does want to charge me, and the rates are AWESOME, googled the exchange rate and schwab was exactly what google showed for that day. PERFECT !

  • ari

    State Farm bank works the same exact as schwab

  • Shlomo Boukai

    Yes they do. Not only do they do a hard inquiry, if they don’t like what they see, they will decline your checking account application. I’m looking at State Farm Bank as an alternative. They do a soft pull on TransUnion but hopefully they don’t base their decision to grant you a checking account on your credit worthiness like Schwab does.

  • gq

    According to CapitalOne site:

    Capital One consumer accounts (except for High Yield Checking, High
    Interest Free Checking, Tower Gold Checking and Platinum Checking) will
    be charged a 3% fee on international ATM cash withdrawals from an ATM
    outside the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This fee is
    in addition to fees that may be assessed by the ATM operator and the
    $2.00 foreign ATM fee that may be charged for using a non-Capital One
    Bank ATM.

    I have the High Yeild Checking and love it.

  • Deet

    Capital One card is supposed to be at the MC rate, which shows lower online than the Visa rate. I’m really disappointed about this card. Please disregard my earlier post about Capital One 360 if I can’t erase it. A decade ago, I used a Capital One card and found it 4% more expensive than my plain bank ATM card, which then didn’t charge the 1%. I assumed it was their exchange rate.

  • Deet

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. Years ago, I compared charges on a no-fee Capital One card and a plain bank ATM card, which then claimed no 1% fee. The CapOne card was about 4% more expensive than the bank card; I assumed a different exchange rate. But what it is is cheating. Mastercard’s online daily interest rate seems about .8% more favorable to USD than Visa’s, but maybe Visa is being more honest. I’m ditching my Capital One 360 card. I don’t like being lied to, either.

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